Poulenc: Gloria

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Poulenc,Ravel
WORKS: Poulenc: Gloria; Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé
PERFORMER: Jessica Rivera (soprano); Chicago Symphony Chorus and Orchestra/Bernard Haitink


Bernard Haitink’s affection for French music goes back a long way and has produced some marvellous results on disc. If this recording is disappointing, that has very little to do with him.

For a start, the pairing of these two popular works verges on the bizarre; though I suppose you could find a perverse kind of logic in linking an earthy sacred work with a transcendent secular one. In any case, the main problems here are not with the repertoire but with the recording and, to a lesser extent, the performances.

To have the chorus recessed in Daphnis accords mostly with the composer’s intentions. But the Gloria demands much more immediate presence, both choral and orchestral, than we are vouchsafed here, and simply turning up the dynamic level does not solve the difficulty. For the soprano solo Poulenc wanted the voice of Verdi’s Desdemona, with warm but very quiet high notes.

For me, Jessica Rivera is rather cool, and also tremulous, and at times she lags behind the beat; Susan Gritton on the Hyperion disc is surely much nearer to what the composer wanted.


In Daphnis, the first clarinet has a couple of overexcited bars in the ‘Danse guerrière’, but the killer moment is again vocal rather than orchestral, at the end of the treacherous unaccompanied choral passage, where the pitch drops a whole semitone before the horn entry, with horrid results – perhaps excusable in the live performances of November 2007, but not on disc. Roger Nichols